PULASKI COUNTY, Va. – A Pulaski County native is back in the United States after commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day last week with a special speech on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.
"For me, it was one of remembrance, talking about the folks and what they had done that morning,” Maj. Gen. John Epperly said.
Epperly’s life of service was inspired by his family and his hometown.
"You grow up in southwest Virginia, it's a very, I think, patriotic part of the state. Everybody from your teacher to your Sunday school teacher or whatnot very much loved that kind of service,” Epperly said.
Now Epperly commands the 29th Infantry Division in the Virginia National Guard -- the same division that was one of the first to break through German lines on D-Day and proud to have included the Bedford Boys.
"Those are pretty big shoes to fill for anyone that comes after that,” Epperly said. "The emotions are there every time you go to that place. It really is hallowed ground, especially for our division."
That's where he stood early Thursday morning, speaking to a crowd of hundreds that included family members of those killed on D-Day.
"You find yourself thinking, 'Wow, if I had been here that morning,'" Epperly said. "It is absolutely amazing what those young Americans did that day.”
Epperly is doing his best to carry on that legacy with his words and his actions.
"As long as you pass that forward to the future generations, you never really forget and you never really lose the sacrifice that was made," Epperly said. "I train my soldiers and that we're ready to go when the call comes, if the call comes, so that we can maintain the freedom that was bought at so high a price by those who came before us."
Epperly is a citizen soldier, who is also president of DMI Federal. He credits the company and his family for allowing him to serve his country, similar to the citizens who served on D-Day.